A mass vaccination program in Sweden that left some with undesirable side effects has sparked the debate over a COVID-19 sting, as the WHO issues a key warning.
Are you taking a hastily developed vaccine? Never again, says Meissa Chebbi, who, like hundreds of other young Swedes, suffered from debilitating narcolepsy following a mass vaccination campaign against the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic. The experience has shaken Swedes’ confidence in a future vaccine against the new coronavirus and heightened fears about unknown long-term side effects.
Central Stockholm in April where restaurants and bars stayed open. Image: Anders WIKLUND / TT News Agency / AFP) / Sweden OUTSource: AFP
As the world waits for the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine to be launched, some in Sweden are watching with concern.
For 21-year-old Meissa Chebbi, who, like hundreds of other young Swedes, suffered from debilitating narcolepsy after a mass vaccination campaign against the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic, the vaccine is nothing to rush into.
« I will never recommend that, » Chebbi told AFP when asked about a rapidly developed vaccine.
The Swedish case underscores the complex task that governments face in introducing vaccines against the coronavirus, especially at a time when rabid misinformation on social media creates skepticism in government institutions and even about the disease itself.
The trauma with vaccines is particularly notable in Sweden, where typically more than 90 percent participate in the voluntary vaccination program for children.
However, a recent poll by the Novus Electoral Institute found that 26 percent of Swedes have no plans to take any of the COVID-19 vaccines under development, and 28 percent are undecided.
Forty-six percent said they would get a bump. Of the opponents, 87 percent said that this was due to fears about as yet unknown side effects.
Sweden, like many other nations, did not have a strict initial lockdown. Image: Martin von Krogh / Getty Images Source: Getty Images
It comes after the Scandinavian country had a nasty experience in 2009 after health officials urged the public to take Pandemrix swine flu vaccine from British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
More than 60 percent followed the call – the highest level in the world. Chebbi and hundreds of others, especially children and young adults under the age of 30, were later diagnosed with narcolepsy as a side effect of the vaccine.
Finally, a link was made to an adjuvant or booster in the Pandemrix vaccine that was supposed to boost the immune response.
Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder of the nervous system that causes excessive and often uncontrollable sleepiness.
« I have constant sleep attacks in all kinds of situations and at inappropriate times … In my meals, at job interviews, at lectures, seminars, at university. I fell asleep at work, I fell asleep on buses and everywhere, ”said Chebbi.
Swedish Medicines Insurance has so far approved 440 out of 702 narcolepsy claims associated with Pandemrix, and paid out a total of 100 million kroner (15 AUD). 7 million) as compensation.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell is a polarizing figure and has taken a unique approach to combating the pandemic. Image: Magnus ANDERSSON / various sources / AFP) / Sweden Source: AFP
32-year-old Gustav Lloyd Agerblad has a tattoo of Tegnell on his arm. Image: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFPS Source: AFP
Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist and given the country’s controversial « softer » response to the new coronavirus, was part of an expert group on the health committee that called for mass vaccination in 2009-2010.
« Of course the decision would have been completely different if we had known about the side effects. But they were completely unknown, they were a surprise to everyone, ”Tegnell told AFP in an interview.
« There has been an international consensus for many years that the best you can do during a pandemic is vaccination, and it really is the only long-term solution we have. « . ”
« I don’t plan to take the vaccine, » he told AFP. “There are just too many questions. « Tegnell said he understood the concerns of the Swedes.
« Of course, when you have a new vaccine that we don’t know much about – for a disease we don’t know much about – everyone wants … more information before they make a decision about it, » he said.
“We will post about these vaccines when we know a little more about them. Tegnell ruled out future vaccines being mandatory.
People on the quay in Stockholm in November. Image: Fredrik SANDBERG / TT News Agency / AFP) / Sweden. Source: AFP
The race for a vaccine is on worldwide. In the picture, an engineer is working on a vaccine in Beijing. Image: NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFPS Source: AFP
Given widespread misinformation concerns, health officials fear they could undermine attempts to distribute enough vaccines for the potentially deadly virus.
The three vaccines that have been shown to be effective in studies are pending regulatory approval, including the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia.
Vaccine manufacturers insist that no compromises have been made in their development despite the breakneck speed. However, reporting bugs like AstraZeneca’s could undermine public confidence, some fear.
The level of online misinformation prompted the World Health Organization to warn of an “infodemic”, fake news and misinformation on social media back in February.
Hannah Laine, a 37-year-old social worker in Stockholm, said she, her husband and three children would definitely get the vaccine – despite her fears.
« If it’s approved for the market and we find that the health department and society tell us to take the vaccine, we will, » she told AFP.
“We have to take our moral responsibility for the elderly and the sick. We’ll take it, maybe not for us, but for society. ”
However, the chair of the Swedish Narcolepsy Association, Elisabeth Widell, said the authorities called for a sense of solidarity in 2009 and that she hoped it would not happen again.
« People who do not get vaccinated should not be blamed and embarrassed. Because it’s not compulsory, which means it’s a free choice, ”she said.
A flu vaccine is given in the US. Ensuring widespread immunization is seen as key to ending the lockout cycle. Image: Robyn Beck / AFPS Source: AFP
The World Health Organization fears that fake news and information on the Internet could jeopardize hopes for a mass vaccination that could save millions of lives.
« Coronavirus disease is the first pandemic in history that uses technology and social media on a large scale to keep people safe, information, productivity and connected, » the WHO said.
« At the same time, the technology we rely on to stay connected and stay informed is enabling and enhancing an infodemic that continues to undermine the global response and undermine action to fight the pandemic. ”
More than 1. 4 million people have died since the pandemic hit China late last year.
Last month, a study by Cornell University in the US found that US President Donald Trump was the world’s biggest driver of COVID-19 misinformation during the pandemic.
In April, Trump considered the possibility of using disinfectants in the body to cure the virus, and also encouraged unproven treatments.
« Without the proper trust and information, diagnostic tests will go unused, vaccination campaigns (or campaigns promoting effective vaccines) will not achieve their goals, and the virus will continue to thrive, » WHO said.
Rachel O’Brien, WHO vaccination director, said the agency was concerned about false information being shared by the anti-Vaxxer movement.
« We are very concerned and concerned that people are getting their information from credible sources, that they are aware that there is a lot of information that is wrong, either intentionally wrong or unintentionally wrong, » she said AFP.
Steven Wilson, professor at Brandeis University and co-author of a study entitled « Social Media and Vaccine Hesitancy » published in the British Medical Journal last month, saw a link between online disinformation campaigns and a decline in vaccinations.
« My concern about the impact of disinformation on social media related to COVID-19 is that it will increase the number of people who are reluctant to get a vaccine, even if their concerns have no scientific basis, » he said.
One of the more eccentric claims made by conspiracy theorists is the idea that the novel coronavirus pandemic is a hoax or part of an elite plan designed by the likes of Bill Gates to control the population.
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